Tech Talk // Wedding Day Camera Setup

I often get asked about my Wedding Day Camera Setup which I always think is a bit of an open-ended question and the truthful answer is “it depends…”. It depends on the part of the day, the ambient lighting, if I am using off-camera flash, if I'm indoors or outdoors, being creative, or taking safe shots… the variables are quite endless. However, that’s not to say that I’m always fiddling with my settings during a wedding - far from it. I am not a very technical shooter, and there is a lot of pressure to deliver, so I have developed a few ‘go to’ settings that have served me well and ensure that my camera is set up specifically for how I like to shoot.

My intent with this blog post is to lay out how I have my camera set up and highlight a few little tricks I have learnt along the way. This is by no means a ‘How You SHOULD Set Up Your Camera’ article and I’m not saying what I do is right or what others do is wrong, it just works for me and my shooting style. It took me a lot of reading and experimentation to find a setup that worked for me, so hopefully this will help speed up your quest for the perfect camera setup.

Aperture Priority or Manual Mode?

Right, let’s get the real emotive bit out of the way. I shoot 80% of a wedding in Aperture Priority Mode (AV). There. I’ve said it. The wedding day moves so quickly and I find that leaving the camera in AV mode is one less thing I need to worry about. The only time I am in Manual Mode is the ceremony and speeches when the light is consistent or when using some off-camera flash, typically during the first dance or dance floor partying.

In tricky light and those times that I need to ‘override’ the camera quickly in AV mode, I just ride the Exposure Compensation up or down, take a quick test shot and ‘chimp’. You will be amazed at how quickly and instinctively you tweak the Exposure Compensation after a while.  When shooting into a backlit window for example, I typically add 1 to 2 stops of EC before I have even taken a frame. I have seen many ‘togs get their exposure set up in live view and then switch over to manual. Whatever gets you there, folks.

RAW vs JPEG

I have 2 Canon 5D Mark III bodies on me at all times, which have dual card slots (CF and SD). I know many photographers like to write RAW to one card and JPEG to another but I prefer having the bodies set up to write RAW to both cards. This is a personal preference, predominantly aimed at reducing the risk of card corruption / image loss. I’m content to sacrifice being able to quickly export and showcase JPEGS to the client on the day in favour of overall security. My post processing workflow is always based off the RAW image so again there is no benefit to me capturing the JPEG’s.

And there’s a reason that RAW wins every day of the week for me. The amount of raw data modern day sensors can capture is truly amazing. Whilst we always try to get our exposure bang on for each frame, there are occasions when The Moment happens before you’ve had time to dial in your settings and your frame is horribly under- or over-exposed. If this happens to you, don’t sweat it, as you’ll probably be able to rescue the exposure in Lightroom. If you shoot in JPEG, this would be very difficult to rescue, but RAW captures so much detail that there is a good chance you can still deliver a client-worthy image.

See the following example.

Underexposed RAW File Processed to JPEG in Lightroom

Underexposed RAW File Processed to JPEG in Lightroom

In this example, Vicky and Ellie were backlit at dusk where the ambient light was very low. This is an example of a tricky lighting situation where your camera struggles to meter correctly and I really should have shot this in manual mode (or used some off camera flash). But with that said, since I shot in RAW, the bad exposure issues could be solved in Lightroom with some pretty basic adjustments. Hopefully this example demonstrates the amount of data captured in a RAW file and why I think it's essential to always shoot in RAW.

(It’s worth noting that if your image is too under- or over-exposed the RAW data won’t be there to recover, so shooting RAW won’t guarantee that you can salvage all incorrectly exposed images. So obviously aim to get it right in camera whenever possible!)

Bottom line is that RAW gives you more of a chance to tweak or correct incorrect exposures than JPEG.

White Balance

This is no brainer for me. I am 100% in Auto White Balance for every wedding. Since I always shoot in RAW, white balance adjustments / colour correction can easily be done in Lightroom, which is great, as it’s one fewer setting that I need to worry about on the day.

Metering

This is another set and forget option for me. When using Aperture Priority, I am 100% in Evaluative Metering and can’t remember a time I last switched this to anything else. In very tricky lighting I’ll switch over to Manual mode and dial in the correct exposure or use Exposure Compensation when in AV mode as previously mentioned.

Minimum Shutter Speed and Auto ISO

One of the things I LOVE about the Canon 5D Mark III is being able to set a minimum shutter speed and a maximum ISO you will accept. With these set, the camera will adjust both automatically for you when in AV mode for example.

After I discovered the following settings, I felt like a weight had been lifted and I was totally free to shoot without having to continually tweak my settings.

This is how I have mine set up:

Auto ISO Range: 100 – 6400 & Min Shutter Speed: 1/125

Auto ISO Range: 100 – 6400 & Min Shutter Speed: 1/125

The 2 important settings here are:

1.     Auto ISO Range: 100 – 6400

This is me telling the camera that when in Auto ISO mode (which I always am when in AV Mode), I am happy for it to go as high as 6400. The 5D Mark III is great at high ISO’s and I could push this even higher and still deliver client-worthy images, but in all honesty, I’ve not found too many occasions when I need to go beyond 6400.

2.     Min Shutter Speed: 1/125

This is me telling the camera that the slowest shutter speed I will accept is 1/125th of a second. If the camera needs to let more light in, it will move the ISO up so it doesn’t drop below 1/125th of a second.

So, with that set, when I’m in AV Mode and Auto ISO, the camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed and ISO for the aperture I have set and I know my shutter speed won’t drop below 1/125 and my ISO won’t go above 6400. Having my camera set up like this leaves me free to focus on capturing moments and means I don’t have to continually fiddle with my settings. Cool, right?

Since I use a 35mm and 85mm combo, 1/125 shutter speed is ideal for me but if you use longer lenses like the 70-200, you may wish to up the shutter speed minimum to 1/250.

Note: If working in extremely low light, I would probably switch over to manual mode with tripod and or OCF, so this is not a silver bullet for ALL shooting conditions.

AF Mode, Drive Mode and Focus Points

When it comes to Auto Focus and Drive Mode, for 95% of the wedding, I have my camera set as follows:

One Shot Auto Focus & Single Silent Shutter

One Shot Auto Focus & Single Silent Shutter

The 2 important settings here are:

1.     AF Mode: One Shot

This is basically the setting to use when shooting stationary subjects. I know people move but it's not like shooting fast moving objects like F1 cars or Cheetahs in full flight, so this mode works just fine.

2.     Drive Mode: Silent Single Shooting

This is a little gem of a feature on the Canon 5D Mark III. As the name suggests, the sound of the shutter actuating is significantly reduced and is brilliant for ceremonies and speeches when you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. You do sacrifice FPS (3 I think, instead of 6) but I tend to leave this setting on all day, except for one or two key moments, such as the confetti shot. 

The "Single" part of this setting simply means when you press the shutter button, one and only one frame is taken.

Three times in the wedding day (bridal entrance, bride and groom exit and confetti) I will move over to AI Servo (continues to track the subject so long as you keep the focus button pressed). I also change the Drive Mode over to Continuous (burst shooting at multiple frames per second) so I am sure to capture all the quicker moving action.

Here is a neat little trick though to help you quickly move between ONE SHOT and AI SERVO; you can configure the DOF Preview button to switch over to AI Servo when pressed.

Depth of Field Preview Button (DOF) Configured for AI Servo

Depth of Field Preview Button (DOF) Configured for AI Servo

To set this, look under the menu option:

Custom Controls > DOF Preview Button

Menu Settings for setting the DOF preview button to AI servO

Menu Settings for setting the DOF preview button to AI servO

Once set, if you hold down the focus button and the DOF Preview button at the same time, you are in AI Servo mode and your camera will track wherever you have your focus point aimed.

Finally, on focus points, I have the camera set to only Cross Type Focus points instead of all 61 points (some of which aren’t cross type) so that I know I am always using the more accurate and reliable focus points.

Only Use AF Points That Are Cross-Type

Only Use AF Points That Are Cross-Type

Final Thoughts

So, that’s my Wedding Day Camera Setup and here is what the back of my camera looks like so you can see it all in one place … kind of :

How I Typically Set My Camera Up For Shooting a Wedding

How I Typically Set My Camera Up For Shooting a Wedding

Hopefully you have learnt some useful tips and tricks and enjoy experimenting with what works best for you and your shooting style.